Day 2 Thoughts & Opening the Hut (almost)
There’s so much to describe here – it is the most amazingly beautiful place. A few kilometers of bare mid-grey gneissic rock jutting out to sea, rising to a few low hills of shattered stone, swathed in snow and bands of blue ice, some frozen lakes of pure fresh water that we drink from and cook with (and sometimes wash from – once it’s been warmed up on the stove!) The sun traces an arc across the sky and never really sets – last night as I got to bed about 1am I saw a few pink cirrus clouds on the horizon above the pale blue ice of the polar plateau that rises behind us, obscuring the orb and affording the few hours of twilight that we get until it rises again. So it is never dark – this is very weird to adjust to and the only way to sleep is with eye-patches and, of course, my time tested technique of a pillow over the head! This is also effective in keeping the head warm whilst camping in the snow – and, naturally, it is always sub-zero in my tent! This brings with it certain practices – like always wearing thermals, snuggling under bear rugs, wearing warm socks or a beanie – but it is amazing how comfortable it is – I feel entirely happy and at home in my tent in the home of the blizzard! It will be interesting when there is an actual blizzard – you read about it, but I suspect nothing can really prepare you for it. Mawson wrote:
“A plunge into the writhing storm-whirl stamps upon the senses an indelible and awful impression seldom equalled in the whole gamut of natural experience…We stumble and struggle through the Stygian gloom; the merciless blast – an incubus of vengeance – stabs, buffets and freezes; the stinging drift blinds and chokes.”
That was in winter, when it never gets light – so I would expect far milder conditions – indeed we seem to have stepped ashore in weather perfectly akin to Mawson’s experience – calm, bright blue days with gentle winds or utter stillness – creating a paradisiacal sense of antarctic beauty, the frozen sea-spume like foams of blue-tinged pavlova atop the McKellar islets just offshore, vivid surreal shapes in the fresh and limpid air, the eye drawn to the horizon across the deep blue ocean towards massive icebergs, again tinged with blue, drifting slowly across the curvature of the earth. Scribbles of cirrus in the sky, a sparkling ring around the sun of ice particles refracting light, the puzzled squawks and enquiries of curious teams of Adelie penguins, running towards you, intent to examine these bipedal, brightly coloured aliens newly wandering their landscape; the miraculous, many forms of ice, transparent, blue, ice-sculpted, rippled; snow, firn, soft and hard – a myriad of arrangements enwrapping the startling variety of rocks – that appear to me to be a geologist’s dream. And last, but not least, tiny patches and streaks of bright green or yellow lichen, scattered unexpectedly upon rocks or entirely consuming the bones of a penguin skeleton, frozen amidst stones – life and death mere metres from each other in the guano- covered colonies.
And finally we opened the door on Mawson’s Hut. It was an emotional moment for me and very kindly Anne and Michelle asked Pete and I to do it – they’d excavated the ice with Jon and Brett and Pete (enough to build an igloo!) and finally freed the door under a metre and a half of solid snow – cut with chainsaws. And so we opened it and I stepped inside and smelt old damp wood and found more snow inside and another door and an amazing overwhelming sense of history, that these people really were here 90 odd years ago (1911-14) and they really did do this stuff. You’re reminded constantly by the lugubrious cross to Ninnis and Merz just how lethal this place can be. But opening that door – we immediately found another interior door that is closed (a new one put there by the last Mawson’s Huts Foundation Team) – so have yet to step inside- we must be patient as it is a very fragile environment. We removed the skylight covers so you could get glimpses of the interior. Everyone is very excited – there is a great sense of anticipation. I am startled by how much I know this place already by having visited it in my imagination for so long, by having created it virtually upon a computer – and I haven’t been too far off – except in one major thing – the detail here, the sense of presence, of its reality, of its startling being.
– Peter Morse